Jul
11
2019
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Swit, a collaboration suite that offers ‘freedom from integrations,’ raises $6 million in seed funding

A marketplace dominated by Slack and Microsoft Teams, along with a host of other smaller workplace communication apps, might seem to leave little room for a new entrant, but Swit wants to prove that wrong. The app combines messaging with a roster of productivity tools, like task management, calendars and Gantt charts, to give teams “freedom from integrations.” Originally founded in Seoul and now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Swit announced today that it has raised a $6 million seed round led by Korea Investment Partners, with participation from Hyundai Venture Investment Corporation and Mirae Asset Venture Investment.

Along with an investment from Kakao Ventures last year, this brings Swit’s total seed funding to about $7 million. Swit’s desktop and mobile apps were released in March and since then more than 450 companies have adopted it, with 40,000 individual registered users. The startup was launched last year by CEO Josh Lee and Max Lim, who previously co-founded auction.co.kr, a Korean e-commerce site acquired by eBay in 2001.

While Slack, which recently went public, has become so synonymous with the space that “Slack me” is now part of workplace parlance at many companies, Lee says Swit isn’t playing catch-up. Instead, he believes Swit benefits from “last mover advantage,” solving the shortfalls of other workplace messaging, collaboration and productivity apps by integrating many of their functions into one hub.

“We know the market is heavily saturated with great unicorns, but many companies need multiple collaboration apps and there is nothing that seamlessly combines them, so users don’t have to go back and forth between two platforms,” Lee tells TechCrunch. Many employees rely on Slack or Microsoft Teams to chat with one another, on top of several project management apps, like Asana, Jira, Monday and Confluence, and email to communicate with people at other companies (Lee points to a M.io report that found most businesses use at least two messaging apps and four to seven collaboration tools).

Lee says he used Slack for more than five years and during that time, his teammates added integrations from Asana, Monday, GSuite and Office365, but were unsatisfied with how they worked.

“All we could do with the integrations was receive mostly text-based notifications and there were also too many overlapping features,” he says. “We realized that working with multiple environments reduced team productivity and increased communication overhead.” In very large organizations, teams or departments sometimes use different messaging and collaboration apps, creating yet more friction.

Swit’s goal is to cover all those needs in one app. It comes with integrated Kanban task management, calendars and Gantt charts, and at the end of this year about 20 to 30 bots and apps will be available in its marketplace. Swit’s pricing tier currently has free and standard tiers, with a premium tier for enterprise customers planned for fall. The premium version will have full integration with Office365 and GSuite, allowing users to drag-and-drop emails into panels or convert them into trackable tasks.

While being a late-mover gives Swit certain advantages, it also means it must convince users to switch from their current apps, which is always a challenge when it comes to attracting enterprise clients. But Lee is optimistic. After seeing a demo, he says 91% of potential users registered on Swit, with more than 75% continuing to use it every day. Many of them used Asana or Monday before, but switched to Swit because they wanted to more easily communicate with teammates while planning tasks. Some are also gradually transitioning over from Slack to Swit for all their messaging (Swit recently released a Slack migration tool that enables teams to move over channels, workspaces and attachments. Migration tools for Asana, Trello and Jira are also planned).

In addition to “freedom from integrations,” Lee says Swit’s competitive advantages include being developed from the start for small businesses as well as large enterprises that still frequently rely on email to communicate across different departments or locations. Another differentiator is that all of Swit’s functions work on both desktop and mobile, which not all integrations in other collaboration apps can.

“That means if people integrate multiple apps into a desktop app or web browser, they might not be able to use them on mobile. So if they are looking for data, they have to search app by app, channel by channel, product by product, so data and information is scattered everywhere, hair on fire,” Lee says. “We provide one centralized command center for team collaboration without losing context and that is one of our biggest sources of customer satisfaction.”

Jun
20
2019
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Slack opens at $38.50, a pop of 48% on its first day of trading on NYSE as WORK

Slack, the workplace messaging platform that has helped define a key category of enterprise IT, made its debut as a public company today with a pop. Trading as “WORK” on the New York Stock Exchange, it opened at $38.50 after setting a reference price last night of $26, valuing it at $15.7 billion, and then setting a bid/asking price of $37 this morning.

The trading climbed up quickly in its opening minutes and went as high as $42 and is now down to $38.95. We’ll continue to update this as the day goes on. These prices are pushing the market cap to around $20 billion.

Note: There was no “money raised” with this IPO ahead of today because Slack’s move into being a publicly traded company is coming by way of a direct listing — meaning the shares went directly on the market with no pre-sale. This is a less-conventional route that doesn’t involve bankers underwriting the listing (nor all the costs that come along with the roadshow and the rest). It also means Slack does not raise a large sum ahead of public trading. But it does let existing shareholders trade shares without dilution and is an efficient way of going public if you’re not in need of an immediate, large cash injection. It’s a route that Spotify also took when it went public last year, and, from the front-page article on NYSE.com, it seems that there might be growing interest in this process — or at least, that the NYSE would like to promote it as an option.

Slack’s decision to go slightly off-script is in keeping with some of the ethos that it has cultivated over the last several years as one of the undisputed juggernauts of the tech world. Its rocket ship has been a product that has touched on not one but three different hot growth areas: enterprise software-as-a-service, messaging apps and platform plays that, by way of APIs, can become the touchstone and nerve center for a seemingly limitless number of other services.

What’s interesting about Slack is that — contrary to how some might think of tech — the journey here didn’t start as rocket science.

Slack was nearly an accidental creation, a byproduct that came out of how a previous business, Tiny Speck, was able to keep its geographically spread-out team communicating while building its product, the game Glitch. Glitch and Tiny Speck failed to gain traction, so after they got shut down, the ever-resourceful co-founder Stewart Butterfield did what many founders who still have some money in the bank and fire in their bellies do: a pivot. He took the basic channel they were using and built it (with some help) into the earliest public version of what came to be known as Slack.

But from that unlikely start something almost surprising happened: the right mix of ease of use, efficient responsiveness and functionality — in aid of those already important areas of workplace communication, messaging and app integration — made Slack into a huge hit. Quickly, Slack became the fastest-growing piece of enterprise software ever in terms of adding users, with a rapid succession of funding rounds (raising over $1.2 billion in total), valuation hikes and multiple product improvements along the way to help it grow.

Today, like many a software-as-a-service business that is less than 10 years old and investing returns to keep up with its fast-growing business, Slack is not profitable.

In the fiscal year that ended January 31, 2019, it reported revenues in its S-1 of $400.6 million, but with a net loss of $138.9 million. That was a slight improvement on its net loss from the previous fiscal year of $140.1 million, with a big jump on revenue, which was $220.5 million.

But its growth and the buzz it has amassed has given it a big push. As of January 31, it clocked up over 10 million daily active users across 600,000 organizations, with 88,000 of them on paid plans and 550,000 using the free version of the app. It will be interesting to see how and if that goodwill and excitement outweighs some of those financial bum notes.

Or, in some cases, possibly other bum notes. The company has made “Work” not just its ticker but its mantra. Its slogan is “Where work happens” and it focuses on how its platform helps make people more productive. But as you might expect, not everyone feels that way about it, with the endless streams of notifications, the slightly clumsy way of handling threaded conversations and certain other distracting features raising the ire of some people. (Google “Slack is a distraction” and you can see some examples of those dissenting opinions.)

Slack has had its suitors over the years, unsurprisingly, and at least one of them has in the interim made a product to compete with it. Teams, from Microsoft, is one of the many rival platforms on the market looking to capitalise on the surge of interest for chat and collaboration platforms that Slack has helped usher in. Other competitors include Workplace from Facebook, Mattermost and Flock, along with Threads and more.

Feb
14
2019
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Zoho’s office suite gets smarter

As far as big tech companies go, Zoho is a bit different. Not only has it never taken any venture funding, it also offers more than 40 products that range from its online office suite to CRM and HR tools, email, workflow automation services, video conferencing, a bug tracker and everything in-between. You don’t often hear about it, but the company has more than 45 million users worldwide and offices in the U.S., Netherlands, Singapore, Dubai, Yokohama and Beijing — and it owns its data centers, too.

Today, Zoho is launching a major update to its core office suite products: Zoho Writer, Sheet, Show and Notebooks. These tools are getting an infusion of AI — under Zoho’s “Zia” brand — as well as new AppleTV and Android integrations and more. All of the tools are getting some kind of AI-based feature or another, but they are also getting support for Zia Voice, Zoho’s conversational AI assistant.

With this, you can now ask questions about data in your spreadsheets, for example, and Zia will create charts and even pivot tables for you. Similarly, Zoho is using Zia in its document editor and presentation tools to provide better grammar and spellchecking tools (and it’ll now offer a readability score and tips for improving your text). In Zoho Notebook, the note-taking application that is also the company’s newest app, Zia can help users create different formats for their note cards based on the content (text, photo, audio, checklist, sketch, etc.).

“We want to make AI helpful in a very contextual manner for a specific application,” Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist, told me. “Because we do AI across the board, we learned a lot and were are able to apply learnings on one technology and one piece of context and apply that to another.” Zoho first brought Zia to its business intelligence app, for example, and now it’s essentially bringing the same capabilities to its spreadsheet app, too.

It’s worth noting that Google and Microsoft are doing similar things with their productivity apps, too, of course. Zoho, however, argues that it offers a far wider range of applications — and its stated mission is that you should be able to run your entire business on its platform. And the plan is to bring some form of AI to all of them. “Fast-forward a few months and [our AI grammar and spellchecker] is applied to the business application context — maybe a support agent responding to a customer ticket can use this technology to make sure there are no typos in those responses,” Vegesna said.

There are plenty of other updates in this release, too. Zoho Show now works with AppleTV-enabled devices for example, and Android users can now use their phones as a smart remote for Show. Zoho Sheet now lets you build custom functions and scripts and Zoho Writer’s web, mobile and iPad versions can now work completely offline.

The broader context here, though, is that Zoho, with its ridiculously broad product portfolio, is playing a long game. The company has no interest in going public. But it also knows that it’s going up against companies like Google and Microsoft. “Vertical integration is not something that you see in our industry,” said Vegesna. “Companies are in that quick mode of getting traction, sell or go public. We are looking at it in the 10 to 20-year time frame. To really win that game, you need to make these serious investments in the market. The improvements you are seeing here are at the surface level. But we don’t see ourselves as a software company. We see ourselves as a technology company.” And to build up these capabilities, Vegesna said, Zoho has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into its own data centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, for example.

Dec
17
2018
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Google will make it easier for people without accounts to collaborate on G Suite documents

Soon it will be easier for people without Google accounts to collaborate on G Suite documents. Currently in beta, a new feature will enable G Suite users to invite people without G Suite subscriptions or Google accounts to work on files by sending them a pin code.

Using the pin code to gain access allows invitees to view, comment on, suggest edits to or directly edit Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. The owners and admins of the G Suite files monitor usage through activity logs and can revoke access at any time. According to the feature’s support article, admins are able to set permissions by department or domain. They also can restrict sharing outside of white-listed G Suite domains or their own organization.

In order to sign up for the beta program, companies need to fill in this form and select a non-G Suite domain they plan to collaborate with frequently.

According to a Reuters article published in February, since intensifying their focus on enterprise customers, Google has doubled the number of organizations with a G Suite subscription to more than 4 million. But despite Google’s efforts to build its enterprise user base, G Suite hasn’t come close to supplanting Office 365 as the cloud-based productivity software of choice for companies.

Office 365 made $13.8 billion in sales in 2016, versus just $1.3 billion for G Suite, according to Gartner. Google has added features to G Suite, however, to make the two competing software suites more interoperable, including an update that enables Google Drive users to comment on Office files, PDFs and images in the Drive preview panel without needing to convert them to Google Docs, Sheets or Slide files first, even if they don’t have Microsoft Office or Acrobat Reader. Before that, Google also released a Drive plugin for Outlook.

This may not convince Microsoft customers to switch, especially if they have been using its software for decades, but at least it will get more workers comfortable with Google’s alternatives, and may convince some companies to subscribe to G Suite for at least some employees or departments.

Nov
01
2018
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Asana launches $19.99 Business tier to help managers handle multiple projects

Asana, the platform where people can create and track the progress of work projects, made its name originally as a place where individuals and smaller teams can create and track the progress of a specific project. Now, as the startup courts bigger organizations among its 50,000 paying organizations and millions of (paying and free) users globally, it is adding another tier for enterprises that are using Asana for multiple projects: Asana Business, priced at $19.95 per user, per month.

Aimed primarily at teams that have managers or executives overseeing multiple projects simultaneously — sometimes in the thousands for a single organization — the idea is that Business will have extra features to help designated people handle and triage that workload more effectively.

Asana co-founder and CEO Dustin Moskovitz

“Our role is to help leaders understand where their attention can be most useful and what to be focused on,” Dustin Moskovitz, pictured, the co-founder and CEO of Asana, said to me in an interview recently.

That focus on executives and managers is one part of the company’s bigger vision of where it sees its own place in the range of productivity tools that a business might use, alongside other areas like efficient storage (à la Dropbox, Box or another cloud-based service) or communication (e.g. Slack, Workplace, Teams, etc.).

Asana is also not alone in its category; other alternatives include Airtable, Write, Trello and Basecamp, another reason the company is on the path to continue innovating and finding ways to make its service more sticky.

The new Asana Business tier includes a couple of specific new tools that will differentiate it from Teams (Asana’s $9.99/user/month tier for groups of more than five) and Enterprise (the tier that you need to speak to an account manager to determine pricing). In all cases, the pricing is based on buying an annual subscription: prices are higher if you pay by the month.

The first, Portfolio, will give a manager a way of viewing what everyone in an organization is working on in Asana — a “mission control” that provides a single view of what is going on, which can be useful for figuring out more big-picture progress or to oversee a larger project that has multiple streams of work within it.

Alongside that, it’s also soon going to launch another feature in Business called Workloads, which will let managers then assign people to projects or redeploy them, based on what they are seeing progress through the Portfolios tool.

The two features, Asana hopes, will mean that organizations will not only get better insights into their current projects on the platform, but might be enticed to buy into using it for more of them. Alex Hood, the company’s head of product (who joined a year ago after many years at Intuit), noted that it’s something that companies had already been trying to address themselves to some degree. “We’ve seen customers hack solutions together,” he said. So, it seemed like time to make it into a more formal tool, Hood said.

The company’s move to add another tier to generate more revenue comes on the heels of Asana raising $75 million on a $900 million valuation earlier this year — money that Moskovitz told TechCrunch is still largely in the bank.

“We’re not yet profitable, but we’re rapidly approaching it,” he said, describing Asana to me as a “high-volume SaaS business, very efficient and very successful.” The company is not in sight of an IPO, he added, but it seems that it is just getting started on what more it might add to the platform to make it more sticky and useful to the average business user. 

Key on that roadmap, Hood said, is the use of more machine learning and other artificial intelligence tools in the creation of new features — something that the company first introduced through Timeline, introduced in March, which knits together different project threads to start creating a bigger overview of what is going on.

One new feature that Asana is working on is a way to highlight when projects might not be going to plan, or that there are areas that have yet to be addressed — and then suggest ways of helping to fix things through the redeployment of people.

Another area that Asana is exploring is how to use AI to match people better to projects. Hood said that it’s now working on a system that might be able to suggest where an employee or team member might get assigned — for example, using the profile of a person that invited you into a team as an indicator of where you might be working.

Mar
06
2018
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Worklytics wants to cut down on lame meetings and help make teams more efficient

 If you’ve ever been stuck in a boring meeting, chances are you might spend the time busy answering messages from email or Slack — or even just browsing around the Internet while you wait for it to finally end. And there are a lot of factors that go into making that meeting boring, from the content to the person actually delivering it. Phillip Arkcoll knows that problem quite well,… Read More

May
11
2017
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Salesforce aims to save you time by summarizing emails and docs with machine intelligence

 We have all seen the studies — some American workers spend upwards of six hours a day handling email. It’s not a great use of time, it destroys productivity and it ultimately costs businesses money. A new paper written by a team Salesforce MetaMind researchers could eventually provide summaries of professional communication. More effective text summarization tools would… Read More

Apr
19
2017
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Sapho gets $14M more to make legacy software more useful with ‘micro apps’

 In recent years, Microsoft, Facebook and Slack (and many more) have all built new productivity platforms for workers to integrate and communicate about dozens of other API-enabled enterprise apps, but what about productivity tools for those enterprises that have no appetite or budget to rip out and replace software that they’ve been using for years? Well, there’s an app for… Read More

Mar
08
2017
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Amazon’s AWS acquired meeting productivity startup Do to expand Chime

A business meeting in a conference room. Amazon has quietly made one more acquisition to build out the productivity services on its cloud platform AWS. The company has acquired Do.com, a startup that had built a platform to make meetings more productive by doing things like managing notes in preparation for them, and creating reports for those who were not there, as well as organising the meetings themselves. Amazon is… Read More

Jan
12
2017
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Microsoft launches StaffHub, a new Office 365 app aimed at shift workers

staffhub Microsoft today unveiled the newest addition to its Office 365 suite with the debut of an application for shift workers and management, called StaffHub. The program is aimed at those who don’t tend to work from desktop computers and have different schedules from week to week, such as in retail, hospitality, restaurants and other industries.
The program was originally introduced in… Read More

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